Indecent depiction of women on WhatsApp, other digital platforms may soon be a punishable crime in India

The Union Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry has finalised fresh amendments to the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, widening its scope to include digital platforms and over-the-top services such as WhatsApp, Skype, and Instagram among others. The ministry, as a part of its recommendations, has proposed a fine of Rs two lakh and a prison term of up to three years.

The original law, enacted in 1986, primarily prohibits the indecent portrayal of women in the print media via advertisements, publications and paintings. The punishment included as the part of the current law is a fine of Rs 2,000 and prison term up to two years. The amendments have been proposed keeping in view the recent technological developments in the field of electronic communication and are similar to the provisions under section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000.

“Since the enactment of the Act, technological revolution has resulted in the development of new forms of communication, such as internet, multi-media messaging, over-the-top (OTT) services and applications like Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, Chat On, Snapchat etc.”

“Keeping in mind these technological advancements, it has been decided to widen the scope of the law so as to cover such forms of media on one hand and to strengthen the existing safeguards to prevent indecent representation of women through any media form on the other,” WCD ministry said in a statement.

The draft proposes amendment in the definition of advertisement to including digital and electronic form of hoardings i.e. the SMS and MMS. Besides this, the ministry has also proposed amendments in the definition of distribution to include publication, license, uploading using computer or communication device. It also also proposed amendments in Section 4 of the Act to include that no person shall publish or distribute by any means any material which contains indecent representation of women in any form.

Apart from this, the draft proposes the creation of a central authority under National Council of Women that will be headed by Member Secretary, NCW, and have representatives from Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Press Council of India, Advertising Standards Council of India and one member having experience of working on issues faced by women. The proposed council will receive and examine complaints regarding the programmes and advertisements and all matters relating to the indecent representation of women.